To Be An Artist Means...
...being comfortable putting your naked self into your work, putting it out there, for everyone to see and judge. Maybe 'being comfortable' with it is the wrong thing to say. It's never comfortable. That's why I often fail at it.
I take the cowards way out. I lie. I warp my art to fir what I think other people woud like/enjoy. I restrain my characters and cajole them into plots and narratives I don't believe. Sometimes I shoe-horn a message into my art that doesn't belong.
It's dishonest. It's a lie. I'm lazy. I am a sinner.
I want to be liked for my work. Who doesn't? Even, on some level, I hope that this confession endears me to you -- my ulterior motives run deep.
The times when I do manage to put something real down on paper the result is really exciting. I like it. I think it's beautiful. But, I can't show it to anyone. The critique of the art would be a critique of me as a person. I'll be standing up there, naked, in front of the crowd while the poke and slap and mock and laugh. I'm not strong enough to take that. So, I put some clothes on. I cover things up. I make it ugly so the critique is REALLY about me, it's about the terrible coverings -- the things I can change.
I've been part of a writer's group for over a year now, but I haven't attended since february (it's now May). I submitted a piece and it got a very scathing and (in my opinion) overly-critical feedback. The feedback felt like I was being picked at by a group of sharks. Each annotation took another chunk out of me while I bobbed helplessly in the water. Then another, and another.
I couldn't decide why this was the case. Why the piece generated this feeding frenzy. I started to think that it must be me, it was my fault.
Is there a place for trying something different? I think there is, but it's a very small and exotic place. Much like the real world. The real world would very much like to grind you down and polish you up to be just like everyone else. The systems and mechanisms that exist are there to make it seem like things need to be done a certain way:
- this is how you write a plot.
- this is a character arch.
- you need to break the tension here.
- you need to...
- you must ...
- this won't work because...
The reason behind lots of these rules are that, if it is not done this way, it will not be interesting/entertaining/profitable. These are all reasons that focus on the thoughts of others, which lead me to be dishonest.
But, my art SHOULD be ME!
I cannot be anyone else. But, at the same time... no one else can be me. No one else can do what I can do.
In the months away from the writers group, I've been considering this. I've been attempting to exorcise that critical audiance that lives in my head, telling me how things SHOULD be. I've been trying to put myself back in charge. I've been mentally stripping off and searching for an idea.
So, Who Am I?
I'm not sure. I think there are some clues in the things that I would like to read and the things that inspire my interest.
I like stories about the feelings and emotions of the characters. I like ambiguous layering of meanings that create a theme and leave it open to multiple interpretations. I like thrillers. I like science fiction. I like thought-provoking ideas about technology. I fear social media, big tech, big data, big advertising, big... most things. I'm afraid of the errosion of personal freedom and the invasion of ideas from propaganda and marketing. Marketing IS propaganda. I'm afraid I can be convinced of anything and that my ideas are not my own. I'm worried a lot. I feel depressed on a regular cycle and worry that it could get serious, but also that it's just in my head and it's not really depression and I am just making too much out of it and I should just get on with things, but I'm too lazy and uninspired to do anything about it. Which makes me depressed.
Family and relatinships are important. I cry at films. I cry at beautiful music. There are songs that I know I cannot listen to in public because everyone will see me crying -- which would be terrible. I'm a stay-at-home dad, but I hate telling people that so I say i'm a freelance photographer -- I don't even say I'm a writer, because I don't believe that I am.
I love the amazing power that words have over us. They are the fundamental blocks of the world. Things happen because of ideas and motivation. Words are the programming code for ideas and motivation. A well-delivered speach can instill the idea and the passion and motivation to bring about dramatic consequences -- both good and bad.
Terribly evil things have been done because someone used the right words.
I hate social media, but at the same time, I'm told that I NEED it if I'm to become a succesful writer/author. I NEED a platform and I NEED to be able to market myself or a publisher WILL NOT even consider me. But, again, they will publish what is going to be popular, what is going to sell (obviously they are, that's their business) - but it's another pair of hands in my art. Another body-image consultant recommending a nip and tuck, some new clothes, change of hair to make me socially more acceptable.
Social media influencers -- a term that I seriously hope becomes a dirty word very soon -- pretending to be something that they hope other people would aspire to be, so that they will buy the things that they use. It's all so worthless.
So, What Now?
I don't want to lie any more. It's not going to be comfortable and I'm not going to succeed all the time. I think it is going to require constant vigilance. It's going to require me listening to that inner voice. The one person in that tiny audiance in my head that speaks the truth. That small, timid voice from the back row that's embarrased to be in such a hostile crowd. The real me who would rather keep quiet than raise a fuss. Or, if pressed to speak out, will muster up the illusion of confidence and say the things that he knows are expected like the coward of an artist that he is. But -- and I'm saying this to him -- I will listen. Me and you, we could create beautiful things if we worked together. I won't laugh at you.
We don't need to worry about what the other's say. How could they possibly know the best way for us to be us? Sure, they can tell us that parts of our art were confusing or that they didn't get it. We might even take that on board and strengthen the effect of our art. But, our message and approach is our own.
The only rules are the ones we choose to follow.